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Keeping your Brain Fit

There are six essential components to a brain fitness program. Tailored to individual skills and needs, such a program can help anyone at any age, researchers say.

Cognitive training — To work optimally, our brains need to be challenged, though it’s not as simple as doing crosswords or reading the newspaper. Really challenging your brain might mean taking up a new instrument or learning a second language. (Learning more than one language in childhood helps keep your brain strong decades later, but once you learn two, a third language provides fewer added benefits, research suggests.)

EXERCISE — Decades of scientific research support the idea that physical exercise — including aerobic and strength training — is essential to brain health at any age. Benefits are particularly strong for older people. It appears that just 15-20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise is enough to keep the brain healthy.

Healthy diet — Research shows that a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and olive oil, and low in processed foods, is best for brain and body. Some data also suggest that eating fewer calories — just enough to maintain weight — is healthier than eating more.

SLEEP — People who don’t sleep enough dip into their cognitive reserves. As their brains become stressed with age or disease, they have fewer reserves and are more likely to suffer from lack

of sleep. Older people with sleep problems should address them to avoid cognitive decline. On average, adults should sleep 7-8 hours per night, most research suggests.

Social interaction — It’s crucial for both the head and the heart to get enough social interaction with family and friends to feel supported, research has shown, although it’s not yet clear how much is enough. Socializing via the Internet probably has some effect, but it’s possibly less essential than face-to-face interactions.

Stress control — Some stress is essential — it challenges your brain. But too much stress can be distracting, reducing memory and overtaxing the body and brain. Meditation, deep breathing, visualization, biofeedback, and exercise have all been shown to reduce unhealthy stress.


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